This week, I chose Jason Reitman over Zac Efron. The trailer for Labor Day looked good, but I hadn’t read the Joyce Maynard novel it was based on, so I couldn’t tell whether it would have a (relatively) happy ending like Juno or a depressing ending like Up in the Air. I was really hoping for happy. I mean, who wants to depress themselves on purpose?
A thirteen year old boy recounts the story of how his mother fell in love with a fugitive during who invited himself into their home.
I have seen it now and am happy to report that while there are certainly depressing parts in Labor Day, I would not call it, on the whole, a depressing movie. In fact, it would make a pretty good date movie, especially if you’re an escaped murderer with a captive girlfriend you’re trying to Stockholm Syndrome into liking you. Because hey, if it worked once…
I jest, but Labor Day is actually a very sweet movie. Not that it starts out sweet. It starts out scary. Thirteen year old Henry (Gattlin Griffith) has just managed to pry his depressed recluse of a mom, Adele (Kate Winslet) out of the house to buy some new pants when they run into Frank (Josh Brolin), a bleeding fugitive. Frank’s vague threats against Henry are enough to convince Adele to give him a ride… to their house.
I would like some privacy for when I rape and kill you.
Now, I would not recommend this course of action to anyone encountering a fugitive in a department store. 99 times out of a hundred, bringing convicted murderers back to your house will lead to you having your TV and/or life stolen. But Adele and Henry got lucky. REALLY lucky. They were kidnapped by the one convicted murderer who enjoys cooking, cleaning, and fixing things and wants nothing more than to be a good husband and father.
Let’s make steak and kidney pie. Who wants to volunteer the kidney?
Frank was once husband to a girl named Mandy (Maika Moore) and father to a cute little baby, and the fact that he’s not anymore is related to his murder conviction. In a series of semi-intelligible but beautifully shot flashbacks, we see what Young Frank (Tom Lipinski) did that led to his prison sentence. Not that Frank spells out his story for Adele and Henry in so many words.
I was just standing there minding my own business and she sawed off her own head! How weird is that?
In fact, there aren’t many words in this movie at all. The three main characters talk to each other mostly in looks, which is an impressive feat of acting/directing but makes me wonder what the hell they wrote down in the screenplay. My guess is not much, but you can get away with that sort of thing when you’re both writing and directing.
To be fair, many of the ‘looks’ are of the ‘oh sh**’ variety.
Young Henry, having been the man of the house ever since his parents’ divorce, has been trying and mostly failing to make his mom happy, so when Frank comes along and does it for him – great. Until his weird little girlfriend Eleanor (Brighid Fleming) fills his head with stories of Bonnie and Clyde and new boyfriends whose first move is to kick their girlfriends’ kids out of the house.
First they teach you how to play baseball. Next thing you know, you’re a cooler full of organs.
So there’s conflict there, which could potentially lead to a sad and regretful Atonement style ending. There’s also a lot of conflict stemming from the fact that Adele and Henry have to lie to all their friends and neighbors. Frank’s escape is all over the news. Cops are patrolling the town. One word from Evelyn (Brooke Smith) or her special needs son Barry (Micah Fowler) and it’s all over. Frank could get killed or go back to prison and Adele could lose Henry to his fair-weather father (Clark Gregg).
Officer! He made me a hamburger then played the cello! Arrest him!
There was a point near the end of Labor Day where I thought: “Jason Reitman, if you end the movie here, I will end YOU.” Luckily the movie kept going for another few minutes and by the end I was okay with how it turned out. So if you like romantic dramas with (relatively) happy endings, go see Labor Day. Just don’t let it convince you that it’s a good idea to let strange threatening men into your house. Because it’s totally not. THE MORE YOU KNOW.